Inside INSEAD: How A Veterinarian Applied Her Skills In Business School

Cecile Genty, INSEAD

What is the difference between diagnosing a dog’s health problem and offering a strategic solution in an MBA course?

How can a former vet use her past medical skills and knowledge as a strong foundation for business success?

These questions may seem strange. Nevertheless, they caught my eye when I started my INSEAD MBA journey in January. Before business school, I worked at a referral center, which meant the other vets would refer me to patients when they didn’t have the time to work on their cases or find permanent solutions. So I had to start again from a different angle and offer new complementary examinations or treatments to find new solutions. At that time I was mainly working in diagnostic imaging, neurology and oncology, all of which are specialties that are not normally treated in general medicine. Despite this, I felt that my time and energy could be invested in making a greater impact on the planet, which includes both humans and animals. This path led me straight to the amphitheater of INSEAD MBA, a force for good.


The first shock wave hit me in our Introductory Strategy class. Here we were offered a thorough methodology to tackle any strategic problem in an organization – and it looked exactly like the clinical methodology and diagnostic approach. As a vet I get clients who want me to deliver a solution with a lot of uncertainties, all under pressure and time limits. For example, sometimes I encounter a dying animal and have to make a decision within five seconds after gathering relevant clinical signs without much information. As a veterinarian, I often suffered from sleep deprivation while having to be compassionate and energetic for 48 hours. I am expected to be a professional at all times, trained to be resilient and to persevere despite life’s vicissitudes. This was in line with what is expected of a professional who wants to provide effective and lasting solutions whenever a problem arises.

As a consulting vet I needed to be able to transfer our knowledge from one system to another as I learned 7 animals in each specialty. My daily work consists of improvising and capturing the whole system with a thorough analysis of external and internal factors. At the same time, I’m expected to be data-driven but also use intuition and meet limited financial requirements. As a result, I would often think unconventionally and consider unusual hypotheses, never neglecting a possible avenue, and always diving into scarcity. Obviously, our clients have big interests, either emotionally or financially, and they expect us to highlight every single detail that could change the course of things. We are challenged to accompany them through difficult situations and to bring them on the road to success with us.

After talking to my consulting colleagues at INSEAD, my job looked very similar to their day-to-day work in many ways. They have to solve problems on subjects they are not particular specialists in – and are expected to become very proficient in that area quickly. Like me, these consultants don’t always have access to all the data, so they have to work under some underlying assumptions, not to mention high levels of uncertainty and pressure to deliver a final product. Your customers are very demanding and need to understand all the challenges associated with a topic.

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We must also take a clinical approach during case preparation for counseling, which prepares us for what a counselor will do on a day-to-day basis. For example, we need to think about any external conditions (political? climate? psychological?) that might affect performance and mitigate uncertainties using facts and data. Always thorough, we surgically dissect all internal factors that may contribute to a problem. To be effective consultants we must be eloquent and be able to clearly describe our thought process to convince our clients of the right way forward. Everything is a subtle balance between highly efficient and rigorous analysis that encompasses all potential causes of the problems. To communicate this, we need to simplify the argumentation process for our customers. The power of persuasion comes from the ability to clearly explain the diagnosis and the possible solutions so that our customers accept the decision tree as if it were natural for them too.

That’s exactly what a consulting veterinarian does for thousands of clients every day.

During a financial markets and valuations course, we had to deliver a four-page report that included in-depth financial and market analysis surrounding a potential merger. At first it seemed intimidating, like climbing a mountain with my hands while holding an egg by my feet. Suddenly I thought of the hours I’d spent writing biology papers about a tree’s life cycle or reproductive systems. I just took a step back and started looking at the problem as a biological entity with multiple unknowns, variables, constraints, and internal dynamics. The whole structure came about spontaneously. Instead of believing that you will get lost in an MBA because you come from an unusual background, acknowledge that your previous path designed an entire unconscious methodology that you can apply to business issues.

As a vet, I can’t talk to my patients; I need to develop the ability to use nonverbal cues to communicate peacefully. I have to feel, listen to my intuition, read the deep signals in every situation and adjust my behavior accordingly so that I can understand another being.


Cecile Genty, INSEAD

These basic physiological interpretations helped me feel some of the tension, stress, and distrust to help others with different beliefs, origins, or interests in their pets. The fact is, veterinarians need to develop strong interpersonal skills to work with any type of client, from any social background, and in any condition. If I want my client to follow me, I have to put myself in their shoes. This includes being able to understand the unspoken meaning behind their words and the emotions they secretly share so we can communicate clear messages. If I can’t adapt my communication style to outline my hypothesis, they will never follow or trust me. As veterinarians, we must give them the keys to understanding the root causes of the problem and solving it – no different than a customer in retail or technology.

The same goes for what you learn in an MBA. You will encounter different ways of thinking, sharing and communicating; Being able to achieve that flexibility will be a powerful strength. At INSEAD we have the great opportunity to be surrounded by more than 80 different nationalities and as many different experiences from the past. There is a strong emphasis on teamwork and leadership development throughout the program, and the groups are designed to capture these diverse horizons. You have to outline your arguments, defend your hypothesis and convince your colleagues that your idea is THE one. We also need to be flexible and understand drastically different ways of solving problems or communicating ideas to deliver an original perspective. The most diverse teams (nationality, gender, socio-economic background, age) tend to perform best, even if it takes longer to get a result.

I felt a bit strange before applying for an MBA; my background seemed to make me an outsider. Admittedly, I was a bit nervous when I first presented my veterinary perspective in class. Still, I took a deep breath, knowing that all of the soft and hard skills I had acquired through previous experiences could be leveraged in this new environment. Companies are looking for different profiles – and hopefully they understand the opportunities offered by students from non-traditional backgrounds. We stand ready to help them increase their performance and impact through our diverse experiences and ability to think outside the box.

Author Bio: French Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, I have previously worked as a consultant veterinarian in a referral center and have lived in many countries. I have a passion for people and differences, driven by a willingness to make a bigger impact on the world. I am an INSEAD MBA, Diversity and Inclusion representative, deeply optimistic, curious about anything that could help me grow and love to share.